The seder injunction for each of us to consider ourselves as if we had been redeemed from Egyptian bondage is more than an exercise in remembrance. It is a powerful tool of empathy through which we don’t just evoke the feelings of the enslaved of ancient Egypt; we are those slaves.
The true efficacy of such a tool should ensure our being those who are enslaved in our own time. The issue of human trafficking is one that continues to plague the world, not excluding the United States and, specifically, New Jersey. A record number of people — through fraud or coercion — are being forced to perform in the sex and labor industries and receive no benefits from their labor. In this world that deals with the deceptive commerce of human bodies and souls, New Jersey is a destination state.
In 2013, the NJ Legislature passed the Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection, and Treatment Act and formed a commission to monitor and make recommendations regarding existing laws, promote awareness, and review and evaluate support for victim assistance services. The commission’s first report was released in early 2016 with 16 recommendations aimed at raising awareness and protecting vulnerable groups, among them the launching of campaigns aimed at prevention and deterrence.
Such efforts, said the report, should include a focus on educational programs for middle and high schools and on vulnerable populations whose members are at risk of being lured into human trafficking. The report notes:
“New Jersey has made great strides in raising general public awareness about trafficking. However, there are indications that there are possible gaps in training for specific sectors (e.g., tourist industry, child welfare, law enforcement, judiciary, etc.) in how they respond to human trafficking incidents/cases. More information is needed to better identify the need for more training on these topics, and which organizations need the training, recognizing that New Jersey is still in a relatively early stage of addressing human trafficking issues.”
Jewish communal groups — including the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, National Council of Jewish Women, Hadassah, and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights — have helped make human trafficking a priority issue in New Jersey and nationally. Based on the value of tikun olam — improving the world — and the mitzva of pidyon shvuyim — seeking the release of captives — Jewish organizations have played an integral role in the efforts of the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking, which was founded in 2011 and sponsors activities and events to raise awareness among diverse communities to stand together as an abolitionist movement.
In preparation for the upcoming presidential elections the coalition is joining the Generation Freedom campaign launched at the end of March by United Way to bring together all groups working on efforts to abolish human trafficking around the country. During this time of the year, as we celebrate Passover and focus on our own historical experience with the oppression of slavery and the joys of freedom, we must redouble our efforts to stop the enslavement of others. For more information, visit njhumantrafficking.org.